Learning to edit your own writing effectively and thoroughly is a difficult skill to learn. It can be especially hard to spot small errors when you, as the author, know what you meant to say – your eye will often gloss over what your document actually says. To learn to edit your work well requires practice and careful reading of work you admire and want to emulate – we could give advice on how to do that level, certainly, but no amount of advice will negate the need to work at it until you get the hang of it and experiment with different strategies until you find one that works for you. However, spotting small errors that are easy to overlook in your own work is a much more solvable problem. Here’s some suggestions to help you look at familiar words with fresh eyes!
- Write a first draft in a font you’re comfortable with (most of us here at DPP use either Times New Roman or Arial), and then when it’s time to edit, switch to a radically different font – like Comic Sans, or, if you struggle with sans serif fonts, Courier.
- Change the background color of your document. Do you usually write in day mode? Try editing in night mode! Do you usually write with a colored background to reduce eye strain? Try a different color, or white!
- Change the font color in your document. If you default to writing in black, try red, or, if doing this in tandem with a background color change, try switching the font color to one that looks just awful with your chosen background color.
- Change the font size in your document. This can be especially helpful because it’ll radically change where in any given line your words fall – it’s often harder to spot issues at the very end of lines, because our brain fills in the end when we move to the next line, so adjusting where things fall on the page can help.
- Switch what medium you’re working in – if you typed your first draft, print it out or re-write it by hand. If you hand wrote your first draft, edit it as you type it up!
- Read it out loud. Yes, the whole thing. Yes, every single word. This will help spot typos, missing words, weird commas, etc., and can also help identify sentences that are off, repetitive, or otherwise wonky.
- Alternatively, find someone else to read it outloud to you! You can take notes and make changes as you listen to them.
- If you use an outline, go back and compare your draft to the outline. This can help make sure you didn’t miss anything, and also doing a side-by-side reading can help find small things.
- Change the characters names using a simple find-and-replace, it can help it feel like you’re reading something different.
- Put it aside for a few weeks and work on other things, then come back and read it through straight, making no changes – read it like you’re a reader, rather than reading it like you’re the author, and try to spot what you may have left out or been unclear about.
Getting a story “clean” from a SPAG (spelling and grammar) point of view is hard, and even for an experienced copyeditor, it usually takes multiple read-throughs. If you’ve found it’s something you struggle with, one of the perks of the above suggestions is that nearly all can be tried with minimal effort – you’ll quickly be able to tell whether, for example, changing the font helps you or not. If it does help – great, you’ve found a new tool to help you edit! If it doesn’t help – there’s plenty more things on the list for you to try!
Do y’all have any different tricks you use to help you edit? Let us know, we’d love to expand our list!
@licieoic and @nottesilhouette (on Tumblr) contributed ideas to this list.
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